Chapter Twelve

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Toad's hand shook as he fastened a new steel nib to the pen, preparing to write the first letter to Sal that he knew would make it to her, For Haverford had relented! Toad had sent half a dozen before she sent word, but four had been returned at Haverford's direction, his bold hand crossing the front of the missive in block letters: Return to Sender. There had been no response at all to the other two.

For the first time in months, this afternoon, he had received a letter from Sally in her own hand. Seeing her copperplate calligraphy on the envelope had brought tears to his eyes. The short note had been stilted, not referencing his letters, not even utilizing their code, but rather, the most banal and uninteresting small talk he had ever read. Just the tone of the thing was evidence Haverford was reading every word. How Toad was to write a similarly insipid note without gagging at the deception, he did not know. How could he write a letter to his Sally and not bare his soul to her?

Damn Haverford!

But he hadn't expected to be allowed to write at all, and he had been dying to share his impressions of Paris with her. Or at least, most of them.

The wooden handle of his pen was covered with teeth marks he had left while he studied day after day, alone and with his study group, often late into the night.

He steadied his fingers as he penned the opening to the message he would send to Sal by return post, last night's debauchery with his friends foremost in his mind, directly beneath the pounding headache.

Dear Lady Sarah,

Please do pass on my sincere thanks to Haverford for allowing you to write. It would be a cold world indeed, were I cut off from my dearest friend.

It galled to thank Haverford for a scrap of courtesy after the man had seen him exiled. By rights, he should have welcomed his godson to the family and forced his stubborn daughter to comply. Still, the duke would be reading this. Might as well make it good.

I cannot remember a day I have spent away from home when I haven't eagerly awaited the post to hear your news. I am jubilant that the ritual will continue and promise to remain the same faithful correspondent I have always been (which is to say, I will write often and post scads of letters infrequently).

And he did plan to write often, if only because he hadn't much else to entertain him. The workload, combined with an allowance cut to a quarter of its former size, meant he spent less time in dissipation than he had in England. Few and far between were his forays into the fleshpots of Paris.

His intention to remain true to Sal had been upheld more by necessity than his own resolve, for from the first night in Paris, as soon as his willpower against the model had waned with wine, beneath the weight of hopeless longing, he found he could not perform with a woman unless he imagined she was Sal, and in so doing, saddled himself with guilt of a magnitude previously unknown. The poor model who had tried so hard to distract him had left in high dudgeon after he opened his eyes halfway through and wrenched himself away as though she had burned him, his erection shrivelling before her eyes. She had thrown one of his mother's Canton vases against the hearth and woken his neighbours with her screaming.

Since then, when he was alone and not immersed completely in his studies or in brandy, he was all but priapic. At home at night, if his mind turned to Lady Sarah, he could not take himself in hand often enough. He wanted—needed—to drive his manhood into opera dancers and actresses and widows with abandon, detached from the act, from the women. He wanted to employ the same distraction from the raw aching of her absence that he always had before, at Eton and Cambridge and in all his travels with his parents during school breaks. If he didn't do something to manage the constant yearning for Sally Grenford, he would go mad.

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